Lessons Learned: How to learn from yourself

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Shelby Perez/The Occidental

I often look back on my 18-year-old self as being a child. She was one in a lot of ways — naive, nervous, open-minded and idealistic. But I don’t give her enough credit for how much she already knew.

Last week, I had my mom send me my old journal from my first year at Oxy. As a sentimental person, I wanted to look back at my inner monologue from the start of my college journey up to this phase when I’m beginning to wrap it up. I was also hoping to get some inspiration for this article. I was sure that over four years I must have collected some wisdom that I could impart to younger students in my last newspaper piece.

The original plan was to contrast things I had written at 18, at the beginning of college, with what I’ve written in my most recent entries as 22-year-old Kayla emotionally prepares to graduate. I anticipated that I would be able to show how the unexpected twists and turns of young adulthood help us become stronger, wiser and better people. I knew my growth would not be linear (it never is), but I did not know that my younger self would emphatically refuse to play along with my plans for her.

I flipped through and found entries from Fall 2018.

“Even though it hurts sometimes I’m glad to have gotten to spend so much time in such a beautiful world,” I wrote Oct. 11. “Gratitude is simple but powerful, and can cure many ailments.”

I found myself disappointedly thinking that I sounded too smart. But once I quickly got over the fact that I would have to conjure up a new idea for my article, I felt such warmth and pride in the mature outlook I had at an age that feels so young to me now.

Not only was my younger self wiser than I remembered her, she also somehow predicted exactly what I would need to hear more than four years down the line. In a senior spring that has held many moments of self-doubt — as I traverse imminent goodbyes, frantic job searching, plus the usual off-days made more intense by pre-graduation existential uncertainty and identity crises — she has reminded me that a work in progress is still more vivid than a blank canvas. In fact, she has shown me just how optimistic, grounded and loving I can be.

At a time when my present self has so often been at a loss for comforting words of self love, my past self burst onto the scene with a book full of my own advice and a clear example of the unwavering wisdom that still exists somewhere within me. She has been an antidote to my pre-graduation self-doubt — an answer to prayers I didn’t know I was asking.

I am lucky to have an endlessly supportive group of friends, family, peers and professors who have been essential to my growth. Even the most private parts of my journals are foundationally a product of the relational being that I am — reflections of an identity inseparable from those who have helped me form it. These intelligent, selfless people (and some plants and animals too) have taught me so much, but the wisdom I carry within myself is something I rely on constantly as I move through each day.

I don’t want to make it seem like I haven’t accomplished anything these past four years. Looking back at my more recent journal entries reminded me how much goodness there has been amongst the overwhelming whirlwind of senior year sentimentality. These recent entries are longer and more organized than those from first year, and definitely reflect wisdom I’ve accumulated as I’ve gotten older. I can see this growth in how I react to the world around me too. School assignments and difficult personal situations that would have overwhelmed me to the point of immobility at 18 hardly phase me now.

“Trying not to rush the universe,” I wrote March 29, 2022. “Trying to be grateful for the abundance that is here right now. Just trying, it’s all I can do. And it’s enough.”

To the younger students for whom I originally planned to write this: yes, you have a lot of growing left to do. But don’t let the learning still ahead prevent you from seeing the abundance of knowledge you’ve collected from the life experience you already have.

In four years, who knows what my 26-year-old self will say when looking back. She will probably call me naive, nervous, open-minded and idealistic — and a whole host of other things equally critical and charitable. She will likely judge these words, laughing kindly at all the truths I am failing to grasp. But she will have wandered wildly, through the cyclical and messy process of growing. Through those defeats and triumphs, she will have earned the right to look back at 22-year-old me however she pleases.

But I hope she will look back at me as I am now looking back at my 18-year-old self. I hope she will feel even more vividly than I do that an immeasurable wealth resides within. We should rely on our communities often for direction and comfort. We can learn from that love — and occasionally from that heartbreak too — but ultimately we are the sole agents of our own subjective lives.

Look inward and I promise you will find wisdom there. Trust yourself to be your own guide. You will never have all of the answers, but in this moment you already have more than you know.